Mathubathuba & Suzy go to the Snow.


I suppose that it all started here, sort of; ~  The 19th of June 1995.

We all wanted to do a Great Off Road Trek. We were comfortable in Mathubathuba and the girls Gaëlle and Gwendolyne, were less so in their SJ410 Suzuki. Lesotho was the original idea for this groot trek but at the time the Basotho Government was full of diplomatic shit and we could not get a visa to go into the mountain kingdom. So we planned to go all around it. And we did, off the tar where ever possible.

Suzuki SJ410
Suzuki ready for the next trek

But before all that we had to complete the first leg of our trip: The Fika Patso week-end with loads of friends and the  Sentinel Mountain Drive. Well you can see the weather that awaited us on the first morning. Land Rovers and Suzukis went up through 1m of snow without flinching. The same cannot be said for other more macho brands. On the higher stretches the snow was as high as my wheels but the Suzy just never seemed to have a problem.  Climbing up a very slippery slope just past the Overhang Krantz, most the cars slipped over to the side of the road, scrambling for chains and pick-axes. The girls in their Suzuki, unaware of the unofficial stop-over, took the gap and flew past everyone to take the lead position. There were some very red faced Toyota and G-Wagon drivers. Especially as Gaëlle only passed her driving license the previous month!

Vehicle Convoy in the snow in Qwa Qwa
Vehicle Convoy in the snow in Qwa Qwa

After that, a complete tour of the enclosed country, driving as close to the border as possible. Very close in some areas… and always a ball of fun.

From Golden Gate the going is mostly tar until Fouriesburg where, from the Caledon Poort road you can find the gravel border road. This comes out halfway to Ficksburg. There are now military roads going through to Ficksburg but you are supposed to have permission to use these. After Ficksburg at Peka you can follow the border on gravel all the way to Maseru Bridge. Turn right there. There is a dirt road from just outside Maseru Bridge that takes you all the way to Hobhouse via De Bruyn Siding and with great views of the Qeme Plateau in Lesotho. From Hobhouse we found it necessary to keep on the tar until Wepener from where great gravel roads lead all the way down to Zastron or even further down to Sterkspruit.

It was here that in 1901 Deneys Reitz and his small band of friends met up fortuitously with the commando of General Smuts who was also heading for a dangerous adventure into the Cape. They were all very lucky to come across a Mnr. Louis Wessels, a local personality and Commandant of a hundred local burgers who lead them through some tricky passages between the English Camps. The Wessels family still farm in the area.

From there on we took to the road towards the border, (which is now a great wide tar road) and turned off right a few yards from the Telle Bridge Border Post towards the Telle River.

Telle River
Telle River Eastern Cape

This exquisite road takes you along the border with Lesotho for some kilometres and you really feel the life of the Basotho with one foot in each country. Villagers wander across the river and herdboys play on either side without concern. The road then climbs up over Lundeans Nek (2226m) not forgetting to salute the most curious Greek  Architecture on the way up:

Bebeza Church
Bebeza Church in the Telle River Valley

it’s 64 km down this magnificent pass to Mosheshe’s Ford, on the Kraai River,where King Mosheshoe was supposed to have driven back the herds of cattle that he re-captured from the marauding Baphuti from the Stormberg in the Eastern Cape.  Keeping left at this junction takes one onto the 27km gravel road to Rhodes.

Moshesh's Ford
Moshesh’s Ford on the Kraai River

A stop over at Rhodes is really unavoidable as the village is so far from each end of the dirt roads that all lead there. However for some reason, our little group decided to push on up and over the highest road pass in South Africa; Naudesnek (2499m) and on to Maclear. Somehow our (my) navigation was off by a couple of hours and we drove to whole pass in the night, freezing and quite full of concern. Not an advisable exercise. Pot River Pass (1755m) follows on from Naudenek and takes you down past King’s Kop to the back end of Maclear.

At that time, the worst road in  Southern Africa, according to all those who dared to drive it was the road from Maclear to  Mount Fletcher. Every few kilometres, the girls called on the radio for a stop as the din in their plastic topped Suzuki was just too much. After a while we gave them the Land Rover and took the wheel of the little red devil. After 20 minutes we called them and said “That’s enough! ~ Never again!” A terrible piece of road in those day but quite a pleasure to drive today, with well designed curves and plenty of width. You can still see many pieces of the old road as you cruise along this new highway.

The following sections of the trek are just as picturesque but quiet long uneventful and good roads: Matatiele to Swartberg on good gravel and then tar to Himeville. There on my excellent favourite gravel road via Taylors Ridge turning right into the Kamberg Nature Reserve and exiting between Draycott and The Nest on the Bergville Road. You can go around the back of the Woodstock Dam on Gravel but we elected to head straight up to Olivierhoekpass (1740m) passing the great Sterkfontein Dam and then left up to Golden Gate and so closing the circuit.

If you do go around the Woodstock Dam, you might meet this creature:

Strange Machine
Woodstock Dam Alien







A New Door Latch



My landrover was fitted with a new driver’s door latch today.

Her Name is Mathubathuba, after the first son of the second wife of King Setswayo, who was also “bashed in” by a forceps birth.

We have explored four hundred thousand kilometers together, it was the least that I could do, her door was rattling poor girl. They say that this type of vehicle tends to be a little on the dodgy side, unreliable, things break and jokes about them flow freely. I fitted a door latch today, not a head gasket, crankshaft, alternator, axle spider, half-shaft or cigar lighter, nothing visceral. No it was a R40 part and I drove 50 kms there and back to get it. Such is the respect that reigns between us. I scratch her back and she gets me home.

She got me home from the Magalliesburg with a broken half-shaft. Not her fault poor lass, I must have changed gear badly. She brought me home from Lesotho with TWO broken half shafts. Only a disgustingly bad driver could do that even if we crossed a 16 km mountain pass that took three days and sixteen river crossings.
She drove home from The Roof Of Africa Race with no clutch at all. Border crossings and all! What a darling. Last month we made it back from The Lesotho Sky MTB Race with no steering hydraulics. Home. Not stuck in a ditch somewhere far from an expresso coffee. Land Rovers do that. (Although mine has her own expresso coffee on board).

A door latch was a little luxury that she deserved. So of course was the rebuilt (to race level 1 specifications) engine at 200,000 km, the new stainless steel, free flow racing exhaust, the rebuilt gearbox at 150,000 km and at 350,000 km, the new half-shafts all around, the new hand wound custom made alternator, the new steering box and all hydraulics at 250,000 and at 390,000, the new bonnet at 395,000, wheels at 300,000, the new pneumatic locking differentials on both axles, with twin air compressors, the twin Delco 105 amp hour batteries and the 80w solar panel and on board charger. New suspension bushes everywhere, twice, new shock- absorbers and springs and new wheel bearings and seals. Upgraded head lights, Cibie spot lights and a bull bar to match with a hydraulic winch and especially imported 150 psi auxiliary pump to drive it.
Who would not disburse such minor expenses on such a reliable lady of the road?
And they say that Land Rovers are unreliable. Poppycock! All you have to do is to spoil them a little and they will always return your love. My Mathubathuba loves me.